Johannesburg – Higher Education, Science, and Innovation Minister Dr. Blade Nzimande has decried protests at universities and urged all institutions to urgently convene meetings with student leadership to deal with all outstanding registration challenges.
Dr. Nzimande made the remarks after Friday’s meeting with Universities South Africa (USAf) to discuss pressing matters including student debt, registration, National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) accommodation cap, and security at campuses.
Last week some students from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) engaged in protests over the refusal of the institution to register those with historic debts.
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Dr. Nzimande said the meeting discussed matters that were “a common feature of concerns raised by students in some of our public universities” including the recently introduced NSFAS R45 000 accommodation blanket cap.
He said the meeting resolved to establish a committee comprising the Department of Higher Education and Training, USAf, and Vice-Chancellors from all affected institutions to consider solutions for those impacted by the cap.
“The committee will meet urgently next week to look at cases and practical solutions,” said the minister.
“In doing so, we must take into account a number of contradictory facts affecting the implementation of the R45 000 cap, inter alia, evidence of price collusion by landlords to profiteering, the realities of differentiated costs of living in various localities where NSFAS students have to find accommodation and the continued existence of unaccredited accommodation establishment that imperil the affordability and safety of student accommodation.”
The issue of student debt was also being dealt with as part of the development of a comprehensive student funding model, Dr. Nzimande said.
The meeting also noted that there were some pockets of protests, which cause instability in some institutions.
“In order to deal with these issues, using universities internal mechanisms, the meeting agreed that all institutions should urgently convene meetings through forums such as the Institutional Forums and with the leadership of the students, to deal with all outstanding registration challenges,” said Dr. Nzimande.
However, the minister said he was concerned about the violent nature of some of the protests, such as the protest at Wits.
Protestors were involved in acts of intimidation of students, staff, and members of the public and the destruction of public and private property.
Dr. Nzimande said he “strongly condemned violent student protests”.
He said violent protests were wholly unacceptable and provided no solution to student concerns.
Having established engagement mechanisms and having addressed concerns raised by students in various institutions, Dr. Nzimande urged students to return to class to enable the academic year to continue without any further disruptions.